Christmas Tree!

I love, love, love cutting down a Christmas tree. We always bought them at tree lots when I was a kid and when I got into my teen years we stopped getting a tree altogether. Many moons ago when I was living in Highland Square in the swingin’ bachelorette pad I decided I’d like to cut down a tree.

My friend Ben and I trekked out to a local tree farm and I was pleased to saw down my first tiny tree. I was a bit less pleased when it came time to pay for the tree. Yowza!

According to Ben you can’t buy trees at farms that cater to city slickers. You have to get your tree out in the country if you want a reasonable price. I made a note of that.

Later, when I moved in with Mike we kept the fresh cut tree tradition going. We went to Dittmer’s Treet Depot for several years and loved the hot cocoa and popcorn and the wagon ride and the beautiful and reasonably priced trees.

When Dittmer’s closed a few years ago we were at a loss. But good ol’ friend Ben said, “Go to the Happinest. That’s where we went as kids. It’s no frills and it’s the best.”

So now we go see the Millers at the Happinest Farm.

At first I was sad. Unlike Dittmer’s, the Happinest does not have hot cocoa or popcorn or wagon rides. But the trees are gorgeous! And once I realized I could take my own hot cocoa I was sold.

Sunday afternoon we all put on our carhart overalls and headed to the Happinest.

First things first, hot coca to prepare for the hunt.

cocaWe picked up our saw and headed out into the field. The Millers offer a couple different variety of trees but we like the Canaan Fir best. I love that they are tall and skinny with short needles. They make the most perfect Christmas trees!

tree farmEven if you spot a tree you like right away you really must walk all around the farm just in case there is a better one. We examined trees for about 35 minutes or so before deciding on the PERFECT tree.

cutting and carryingWhat a beauty!! We took it up to the barn and they shook it for us and then Mike loaded it into the back of his truck. And in keeping with tradition, we plunked down the tailgate and enjoyed a little celebratory hot cocoa.

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All dressed up!

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Choosing, cutting, and decorating the perfect Christmas tree is hard work. And you can really work up an appetite.

Homemade chicken pot pie – the perfect meal to end a perfect day

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The baby-sized pot pie was a huge hit. She loved it! And what a big day for baby girl – her first carhart overalls, her first trip to the tree farm, her first sip of hot cocoa, and her first chicken pot pie. It really was a perfect day!

If you haven’t gotten a tree yet I really encourage you to go cut down a fresh one. Fake trees are convenient but they’re fake. They don’t smell good, there’s no adventure. Yea, yea some needles will fall off. Big whoop. It’s once a year and if you keep the tree well hydrated you won’t even loose that many needles. Do it!

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Three cheers for Tom 1

If you’ve followed the blog then you have likely followed the soap opera that is our turkey raising. We scored a tom (Turk) and a hen (JD) in the spring of 2013 from our pal Janee of High Mill Park Farm.

Sadly Turk passed away last fall so we traveled down to Athens in the spring of 2014 to find a companion for JD. We came home with Buford T. Justice and they became fast friends. Janee later gave me two more Blue Slate hens just for fun so with three hens and a tom we were able to hatch some poults.

We hatched 13 poults throughout April and May but unfortunately a sickness ran rampant through our little flock of turkey poults and only 4 survived – two hens and two toms. We spent all summer and fall moving our homemade, tarped PVC turkey tractor around the yard.

It paid off. In spades.

We spend Thanksgiving with Mike’s family and his aunt was already planning on a traditional roast turkey so I wanted to do something different. I did a lot of research and finally settled on Mark Bittman’s Basic Braised Turkey recipe.

First things first, turkey stock. Good stock takes time so I wanted this done well in advance. I snagged two turkey drumsticks and two wings from Difeo’s and made my stock in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

002_stockMike butchered Tom 1 Wednesday morning. Tom 1 led a good life and in death he gave us a culinary treasure the likes of which I have never experienced before. Thank you Tom 1. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Wednesday night I prepped all my veggies. I diced two onions, three large leeks, and 2lbs of carrots (thank you Birdsong Farm) along with 2lbs of parsnips (thank you Breezy Hill Farm), and a bunch of celery.

Thursday morning (Thanksgiving) we put the coffee on and got started early.

Mike broke down Tom 1 while I reheated my stock and got started with the pork and veggies.

001_turkeybutcherI sauteed some chopped prosciutto and a pound of Breakneck Acres‘ country sausage.

003_meatsOnce my pork was nice and brown I dumped it into the roasting pan and got started with the veg. I had to brown my veggies in batches since there was so much veg and so little stove top. On the last batch of veg I threw in a pound of chanterelles Mike foraged this summer. (We dry sauteed them and froze several pounds for later use).

And I simultaneously seared off my turkey cuts in olive oil.

004_fullboarAll of the veggies and pork went into my giant roasting pan and i nestled the thighs, drumsticks, and wings down into that goodness. I ladled in turkey stock until it came about halfway up the thighs.

004_intotheovenThis went into a 300 degree oven for about an hour and 45 minutes. The breasts just hung out on the counter while the dark meat braised.

Once the dark meat was tender I laid the seared breasts on top of everything and roasted them until they hit 155F – about 45 minutes.

Look at this. Just look at it! This was a culinary achievement. I choked back tears of pride when I pulled this pan from the oven. And Mike said, “Holy shit that looks good.”

005_alldoneI let the breasts rest on a plate and I chopped and pulled all the meat from the thighs and drumsticks. I spooned a lot of veg & juice into a serving dish and mixed the dark meat right in. I spooned more veg into another serving dish and placed the sliced breast on top.

006_breast(Note, this is only one breast. I saved the other for us to enjoy post holiday.)

I don’t mean to toot my own horn here but I can honestly say that this was the best turkey I have ever eaten. Hands down. No question. It was so freakin’ delicious.

I think that Mike’s family agreed and we didn’t take too much home with us – mostly just veggies. Friday I took the leftover veggies and juice and mixed them with cubed white bread that I left on the counter overnight to make stuffing. It was awesome. I also did mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted turnips, and turkey sandwiches.

Oh my goodness. The sandwiches! Mike said, “This is like lunch meat but like a thousand times better!”

Another source of pride, this was almost an entirely local turkey dinner. Aside from the wings and drumsticks I used for stock, the prosciutto, and the celery everything else was local. We raised our turkey and Mike foraged the chanterelle mushrooms. The carrots, onions, leeks, and potatoes were grown by my friend Matt of Birdsong Farm. The turnips and parsnips were grown by my friend Phil of Breezy Hill Farm. And that delicious country sausage was from pigs raised by my pal Ami at Breakneck Acres.

I am thankful for my farmer friends. I am thankful that I was able to share this turkey with the ones I love. I am thankful for Mike and Ellie. I am thankful to be alive.

Happy Thanksgiving (a little late).

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Chicken Party!

I already told you all about sending our birds to the slaughterhouse. Mike and I can both say, without hesitation, that it was the best $70 we’ve probably ever spent! A million times better than spending a weekend butchering at home. To celebrate we ate chicken this weekend.

First up, stock. I cracked the last quart of my homemade stock a week or so ago so it’s time to re-up. Three small bantam birds when into my stock pot with carrots, celery, onions (skins on), fresh thyme,  some bay leaves, and whole peppercorns. I topped it with cold water, brought it to a simmer, and then lowered the heat and let it gently bubble away all afternoon.

Later I tossed the used up veg and poured the stock through cheesecloth. It went into the fridge and in a day or two I’ll skim the fat, reheat, and pressure can. Homemade stock is a pantry essential. And it’s super easy. Go make some.

Next up, chicken for baby. I put a bantam hen in the crock pot with carrots and celery and fresh thyme. When it was done I pulled the meat from the carcass and chopped it up.

chickensparty002Dark and white meat all mixed together – the way it should be. I pulsed the meat in my food processor with some of the cooking liquid and made baby friendly chicken. It tasted really good and she loved it. She ate it alongside some carrots we scored from Birdsong Farm at the Haymaker Farmers’ Market.

Birdsong’s carrots are so good they don’t need anything so I just steamed ’em a little and smushed ’em up. On a side note, Ellie (so far) is a pretty good eater. Bananas, avocados, pears, nectarines, apples, peas, green beans, egg yolks, carrots, and now chicken. I’m so proud. Especially about the egg yolks.

carrots04

And finally, dinner for mom and dad. Way back at Easter my aunt and uncle gave us 4 chicks. Two were laying hens and the other two turned out to be broilers. Broilers, aka Cornish Rock Cross, are ready to butcher in just 8-10 weeks. But 8-10 weeks after Easter we had a baby so it wasn’t a high priority.

We lost one of them to a predator but the other has been hanging out ever since. She was a sweet bird and even though she was technically past her prime she still managed to get out on the grass and peck around a bit. But she was big. So big that the woman at the slaughterhouse made a comment to my father-in-law about her size.

I weighed her – 8.5lbs all dressed out. Good lord.  A small turkey. I decided I’d roast her.

I seasoned the cavity with salt and pepper and then stuffed it with a chopped onion, some lemon slices, and some fresh thyme. I rubbed the whole bird with olive oil, seasoned very liberally with salt and pepper, and then roasted it along with some homegrown potatoes (thanks in-laws!), Birdsong turnips, and Breezy Hill onions.

It. Was. AWESOME!

Oh my goodness. It was easily one of the best roast chickens I’ve ever done. Mike was busy installing our new pellet stove so we didn’t sit down to eat together. Instead, I pretended to listen to him talk about pellets and fans and fuel savings while standing over the carcass cutting off slivers of meat and dunking them into the pan juice.

When I was about to clean up he asked if I’d taken any pictures. Nope.

Here’s the aftermath. (My shoddy carving is the left hand side). Boy oh boy was this good. Tender and juicy with perfectly crisp, salty skin. There is really nothing better than a Sunday roast chicken, especially when it’s one of your own.

chickenparty001

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Bye, bye birdie….

Somehow we ended up with way too many birds – roos, spent layers, a broiler that we should’ve butchered a couple of months ago. Selling eggs at the market is an expensive hassle, feed isn’t cheap (especially for roosters who aren’t earning their keep by producing eggs), I’m sick of all those cocks picking on our young hens, and I’m even more sick of the chorus line of morning crowing.

It was time to say goodbye to some birds.

We have always butchered our birds ourselves but this time there were just too many. So, at the suggestion of a friend we contacted Lehman’s in Leetonia and trucked ’em down there earlier this week to meet their maker.

27 birds total.

That total included a number of roosters we hatched earlier this year along with plenty of old laying hens. Not even the bantams were spared. We thinned the flock by over half.

Bantam Birdie

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I owed two stewing hens to my pal Marcella who graciously bartered with me on IOU earlier this summer for a peck of tomatoes. I sold two to a co-worker. And my in-laws took two since my father-in-law very kindly delivered and retrieved the birds. 5 birds are in the fridge and I’ll deal with them this weekend. My plan is to make some stock to can and a big Sunday dinner of chicken and biscuits. Mmm….gravy…..

The rest?

cull002The rest we sealed up via our vacuum sealer and after much shifting and squishing we managed to get them all into the deep freeze. It’s going to be a very chicken-y winter.

Not roasted or fried. No, these birds will not work for those dishes. But soups, stews, coq au vin, and chicken and biscuits – that’s where these babies will shine. And that’s perfect winter food anyways.

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Dried Herbs

I love to use fresh herbs when I’m cooking. Our little herb bed did pretty good this year and I used my fair share of thyme, rosemary, parsley, oregano, chives, and cilantro.

But there are also times when I prefer dried herbs. Specifically I like dried thyme (in popcorn) and dried oregano (in sauces).

I clipped what was left and prepared it for drying. I rinsed and spun dry the herbs and then I tied small bundles together using some butcher’s string.

herbs1I hung them in the kitchen and they’ll stay there until they are nice and dry. Then I’ll pluck the little leaves from the stems and store them in small jelly jars above the stove.

herbs2Have you ever classed up your popcorn with a little dried thyme? If not, you really should. It’s delicious. You should also make your popcorn on the stove. That microwave stuff is ok in a pinch but it pales in comparison to real popcorn. Pop your corn and then add a little melted butter, a liberal sprinkle of salt, and a little dried thyme, crushed a bit between your fingertips. Delicious!

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Pumpkin Goop

Tonight Mike and I carved pumpkins. We do it every year. You know me, I love a good holiday tradition.

We plopped a huge blob of pumpkin goop onto the tray of Ellie’s high chair. We watched her push it around and squeeze it between her fingers and smear it on her face. She loved it. She was amazed.

Mike told her all about the importance of seeds and how amazing it is that so much life can come from just one tiny seed. And how one day she will help him plant seeds.

Carving pumpkins – the seed has been planted for another holiday tradition!

PumpkinGoop2014

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The more things change, the more they change.

Since we started selling our jams and jellies several years ago we have prided ourselves on kickin’ out old school jams without commercial pectin. Sure-Jell and similiar products make jamming easy but they also give you a jam that is too thick and overly sweet.

For example, the Sure-Jell strawberry jam recipe calls for 5 cups of berries and 7(!!) cups of sugar. Yikes. When we make strawberry jam we do a 2(ish):1 ratio – 5lbs berries to 2lbs sugar. We like to make the fruit the star of our jams, not the sugar.

How can we do that? We add lemon for natural pectin and we cook the fruit down. Way down. Like hours of stirring on the stove top. Our jams usually require 1-2.5 hours of cook time (with near constant stirring) depending on the natural pectin in the fruit we’re jamming. And then there is the time spent preparing the fruit and canning equipment and the actual processing time.

So, where am I going with all this? Remember 5 months ago I had a baby?

Recently, we occasionally started using flex pectin when jammin’ low pectin fruits. We can keep our jam to sugar ratio the same but by adding a little flex pectin we can speed up the time it takes the jam to set.

A couple of weeks ago one of our favorite customers seemed a bit dismayed when she noticed pectin on the list of ingredients in one of our jams. She mentioned that she had been telling a friend how much she liked our jams and how she loved we didn’t use pectin. It made me sad to hear her disappointment. We certainly don’t want to disappoint anyone!

But sometimes in life you make sacrifices.

After working an 8 hour day I’m much more interested in spending time with baby girl than I am with standing over the stove for 3 hours.

One day Ellie will be able to help me make jam and just thinking about that makes me tear up. Sharing something I love and teaching her the importance of saving the season is something I am looking forward to. But in the meantime, we’ll make this tiny sacrifice.

canning_foods_vintage

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